Readers had plenty to say about Beth Barrett's farmers market expose ("Ripping the Lid Off L.A. Farmers Markets," Nov. 10) — but there was little agreement among them.
Writes Cort Casady, "Let's face it, Barrett's excellent piece makes it painfully clear — some vendors are honest, but most are fudging if not outright lying about the source and purity of their produce. So why do we go to these mythical markets? Because we love the idea. But if we face the facts, they're all largely phony enterprises, despite the best efforts of their mostly well-intentioned managers. Many, if not most, of the 'farmers' who sell at these markets are doing so because they don't want to, or wouldn't be allowed to, sell to responsible grocers like Whole Foods and the many natural-food co-ops in California. Get real. If you really want certified organics, shop at Whole Foods or one of the other markets who stake their reputation on what they sell. Farmers markets are a romantic 'idea,' but they're full of fraud."
Others were less impressed. "What is missing from this slam on farmers markets is some positiveness," Ruralcitizen writes. "Farmers markets are helping to make eating whole fruits and vegetables popular again. Also, by supporting California agriculture, organic or conventional, we are protecting our food supply. As to the nitpicking about Certified Producer certificates being posted, a quick walk-through by the on-site manager a few minutes after opening to remind growers to put them up is all that is needed."
The most vehement response came from John Edwards, president of an organization that operates 20 farmers markets. "I can assure readers that we go to extraordinary lengths to clamp down on farmers cheating at our markets," he writes. "You just wouldn't think so from reading Ms. Barrett's ill-informed and misleading article."
Continues Edwards, "Another error in Ms. Barrett's article, and in her understanding of the rules that govern what a producer can grow and sell, is demonstrated when she writes: 'Under state law, sellers at so-called certified farmers markets' — why 'so- called,' Ms. Barrett? — 'must directly grow the crops sold in the certified section of the market.' Not true. The rules allow a farmer to hold a 'second certificate' allowing that farmer to sell produce of another two farmers at certified farmers markets.
"And whose definition of 'small' is Ms. Barrett using? Does she think Gene Etheridge has the same farming acreage as he had when he first started growing and selling at our Calabasas market some 10 years ago? Of course he hasn't. And does Etheridge Farms only sell at the markets Ms. Barrett says he does? Of course not.... It is precisely these family farms, who through very hard work have grown their farming acreage over the years, that Ms. Barrett confuses with 'Big Ag.' This was demonstrated by Ms. Barrett's ugly dig at Suncoast Farms, a third-generation family concern.
"When I telephoned Mr. Campbell to talk about the article, his daughter Kari answered and told me her dad was out in the field harvesting beans before the weekend rains set in. If you believed Ms. Barrett, you would think Mr. Campbell was sitting behind his huge corporate desk while his farm labor was doing the back-breaking work. And, by the way, what Ms. Barrett labels as 2,500 acres is actually around 900 acres, as confirmed by Suncoast's official county agricultural certificate. If Ms. Barrett did a little more research, she would have seen that the Campbell family has another 1,500 acres where they grow contract seeds and export them abroad in competition to the insidious big chemical companies who bully farmers into buying GMO seeds. Mr. Campbell is a hero to me — but painted a villain by Ms. Barrett."
You can read Edwards' lengthy response in its entirety on our website; we've posted it in the comments section on Barrett's story.
Much less controversial was Jonathan Gold's list of "99 Essential L.A. Restaurants." Sure, there were a few malcontents. "99 Essential Los Angeles Restaurants — or about 40 Essential Restaurants with the remainder being filled as favors to longtime friends of J. Gold?" carped one reader.
Another, who calls himself Fat Guy Tweets, took issue with Gold's praise for chefs who reimagine street food: "The economy is in the sh**ter, no one in L.A. is working and, if they are, they certainly don't have an expense account. Because of this, chefs are 'pimping out' bowls of ramen instead of blowing your mind with higher-priced items. Somebody in the kitchen might care about bone marrow, but the customers are only buying burgers, so they've gotta adjust their menus accordingly."
But for the most part, readers took to Twitter to praise Gold's selections and glorious writing. "99 Essential Restaurants? Time to get eating!" tweeted @RsantaFerraro. "Thank you @thejgold for showing us the way," added @EvTrees. "L.A. is a legit food town."
One transplanted Angeleno sighed, "Next to old friends, nothing makes me miss L.A. more than reading @thejgold." But it was @jamesgomezjr who really hit the nail on the head for us: "yes yes yes food food food." Yes yes yes indeed.
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A Nov. 10 story, "Ripping the Lid Off Farmers Markets," cited a law that requires farmers to grow all the produce they sell in certified markets. There is an exception: Farmers can get permission to sell the produce of two other certified farmers. The story reported that big agricultural concerns sought to stop a $4 fee to boost inspections. In fact, farmers markets questioned the purpose and efficacy of the fee.